I wanted to follow up on my previous post and provide the remainder of the document that I presented there. I’m going to follow this up with another document, The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church, which is intended to “recall the essential points of Catholic doctrine on the primacy” (and again, it will be important to compare these essential points with what Adrian Fortescue was saying about the papacy in 1920.) Ratzinger:
Given the historical nature of Christian Revelation, an attentive co-operation between historical and theological methods is essential to enable theological reflection, also critically justified, to fulfil its task. Undoubtedly, it is true that history as such cannot provide an apodictic certitude of the truth of faith. It should nevertheless be borne in mind that the true meaning of historical facts—even in profane matters—is not revealed by a mere photographical recording of facts as such, but unfolds only in a light that comes from elsewhere, from a vision of reality which can never be simply reduced to the limited horizons of a fact empirically considered. From this point of view it is even logical that the interpretation of faith cannot be indisputably imposed on the historian. What is essential however is that such an interpretation should not be excluded from the facts.I’ve written about the way Ratzinger treats this subject in the past. Here is how he phrases it from his work “Called to Communion”:
“…compatibility with the base memory of the Church is the standard for judging what is to be considered historically and objectively accurate, as opposed to what does not come from the text of the Bible but has its source in some private way of thinking.”What Ratzinger is saying here is that a particular interpretation of faith, which elsewhere he called “the base memory of the Church” must not only be imposed upon historical facts, but must be “the standard for judging what is to be considered historically and objectively accurate”.
One major problem with this is the way that Rome has untethered itself from its own history, and even from its own doctrines.
This is illustrated simply in the way that a phrase “no salvation outside of the church” has been “reformulated” to mean “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
This process of “reformulating history” had its roots in the opening address of Pope John XXIII from Vatican II, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia [which curiously has been removed from the web and which G.C. Berkouwer (trans. Lewis B. Smedes, Calvin College) provides in his work “The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism”, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pg 22)]:
“The certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which we must remain ever faithful, must be examined and expounded by the methods applicable in our times. We must distinguish (sic) between the inheritance of the faith itself or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and the same significance.”Of course. [Latin: oportet ut haec doctrina certa et immutabilis, cui fidele obsequium est praestandum, ea ratione pervestigatur et eponatur, quam tempora postulant nostra. Est enim aliud ipsum depositum Fidei, seu veritates, quae veneranda doctrina nostra continentur, aliud modus, quo eaedem enuntiantur, eodem tamen sensu eademque sentential.]
Raymond Brown, a leading Roman Catholic biblical scholar of the 20th century, explicated how this process came about:
One should start with the ... assumption … that no twentieth-century Church is the same as the Church of Churches of NT times … A critical study of the NT can point out unexpected differences, thus reminding us how much things have changed and what has been lost (or gained). … Churches and Christians, confronted by a critical picture of NT times, can be led to needed reform, either by chopping away distracting accretions or by compensating for deficiencies.Later in this same work Brown further explains this process works out in real life:
What I have just described is not pure theory; that it is possible is verified by what has happened in Roman Catholicism in this century. … Scholars can be purged once or twice, but a new generation keeps coming along; and eventually the [Roman Catholic] Church has to enter into dialogue with them. Thus [the second of three periods into which Brown divides Catholic Biblical Scholarship in the 20th century] saw the introduction of biblical criticism and the gradual but reluctant acceptance of its initial results an and through Vatican Council II. More than by any other single factor, the self-reform of Roman Catholicism in that Council was influenced by the modern approach to the Bible. Catholic mastery of biblical criticism has progressed since Vatican II, and the implications have proved more wide-ranging than even the most perceptive leaders of the Council foresaw. The third period of the century (1970-2000) in which we now live, therefore, has involved the painful assimilation of those implications for Catholic doctrine, theology, and practice (Raymond E. Brown, “The Critical Meaning of the Bible,” New York, NY: Paulist Press ©1981, Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur, from the Preface, pg ix).
“Essential to a critical interpretation of church documents is the realization that the Roman Catholic Church does not change her official stance in a blunt way. Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time” (pg 18 fn 41).Robert B. Strimple, in his contribution to “Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze what Divides and Unites Us,” (Chicago: Moody Press, Ed. John Armstrong, pg. 103), cites this very passage from Brown, along with other contemporary Roman Catholic theologians, and because of this “untethering from history,” concludes, “I am convinced that the theological situation in the Roman Catholic Church today must be viewed as worse than it was at the time of the Reformers.”
Continuing with Ratzinger:
From these methodological premises, it seems to me an important consequence for our theme follows: the collaboration between history and theology can be fruitful if the growing knowledge of historical (and exegetical, with reference to the Bible) facts leads to a deeper theological vision of the Roman Primacy and its ecclesiological function, which helps to distinguish better and better what is necessary and cannot be renounced, from what is accidental or non-essential to the truth of faith. Moreover, this collaboration requires that the question of the doctrinal evaluation of historical facts be made in the light of Tradition, as the locus and criterion of the self-verifying consciousness of the Church’s faith.See my comments above.
6. Lastly, the importance of the theme for ecumenical discussion cannot be ignored. It is true that the symposium does not intend to make a theological comparison of the different viewpoints of the Christian confessions, as would be the case with an ecumenical colloquium. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that the question of the Primacy of Peter and its continuation in the Bishops of Rome is one of the most burning issues in ecumenical dialogue. And it is precisely the awareness that at the centre of theology lies the question of truth, which obliges us to place the service of truth as the basis and goal of the search for Christian unity itself, without prejudice and in obedience to the Lord.
The invitation extended to Prof. Pannenberg and Prof. Chadwick to come to our symposium as representatives of the Lutheran and Anglican confessions (unfortunately Prof. Clement was unable to take part due to unexpected illness) attest to the interest with which the Catholic Church looks to a greater and ever deeper knowledge of the positions of non-Catholic Christians even on this particularly difficult topic. For Catholics, criticism of the papal primacy by other Christian brothers and sisters is like an earnest request to carry out the Petrine service in a way which is more and more in conformity with Christ. In turn, for non-Catholic Christians, the Roman primacy is a permanent and visible challenge to concrete unity, which is a task of the Church and must be her distinguishing mark before the world.
7. As I express my personal hopes and those of the Cardinals who are members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that this symposium may be a favourable occasion to further the in-depth knowledge of faith about this aspect of ecclesiological doctrine, in conformity with the Holy Father’s wishes, I am profoundly pleased to conclude my greeting by reading the Holy Father’s Message of good wishes to all the participants, which I have the honour to convey.
Weekly Edition in English
1 January 1997
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